Advertisers hit Facebook where it hurts – the balance sheet

Back in March I wrote up my six reasons why Facebook might be dying.

Top of the list were the scandals surrounding fake news and voter manipulation.

Now, it seems, the big brands are waking up to the increasing toxicity of Facebook’s brand and are pulling advertising from the platform in support of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign.

With the list of big brands pledging to ceasing spending on Facebook in the month of July, a tumbling share price has so far wiped over £70 billion dollars off the value of the company.

Facebook’s response has been characterised as anything from luke-warm to non-existent by their critics, pledging only to tag “hateful” posts in future and promised further announcements this week.

Is all of this enough to seriously change the direction of travel for Facebook, a company that has undoubtedly profited from divisive and hateful content published on its platform and that allegedly prizes its political reach and influence above everything? And, is this change enough to satisfy its critics? Is Facebook truly accountable for the content on the platform is it is merely a vessel for our own worst natures?

Why Stop Hate for Profit is a great idea that won’t work

Stop Hate for Profit is a great idea. It also has a very simple and workable plan, published on its website, for how Facebook and other platforms like it could become more accountable and combat the spread of hateful content online.

So, why don’t I think it will work?

Well, the problem comes down to numbers. Getting a number of (very) large brands to log off Facebook for a month makes headlines and hits the share price, but only for so long as investors wonder what will replace the lost revenue. And the lost revenue, so far, doesn’t amount to anything close to Facebook’s total income from advertising.

We’re in the midst of a global pandemic that has forced business to move online. It’s never been easier to sell online advertising to businesses hungry for revenue and the vast majority of Facebook’s revenue doesn’t come from big brands – it comes from a very large number of small companies spending small amounts of money.

It’s entirely possible that Facebook can weather this storm and come out of July with a healthy balance sheet. Smaller advertisers may spend more. The big brands still on the platform might spend more as well. Don’t forget, Facebook shares hit a high this time last year when they were hit with a £5 billion fine.

How does Facebook get fined £5 billion dollars and increase its share price?

It’s simple – Facebook was fined £5 billion dollars for privacy violations. The fine was less than 25% of their profit and gave investors the clearest indication yet of what Facebook could get away with and what the sanctions would be. In short – people thought the fine would be bigger and so Facebook got off cheap.

While Facebook, and Mark Zuckerberg, continue to deliver profit for shareholders, the source of that profit will not matter.

That’s why Stop Hate for Profit won’t work.

Correction: Why Stop Hate for Profit won’t work unless you support it

Facebook advertising works because the system can put it in front of people that the advertisers want to see it. Those people click it. The advertisers get what they want and Facebook get paid.

So, as I’ve said before – when the product is free, you are the product.

Fewer advertisers is one thing. Fewer advertisers generating fewer clicks is what would really move the needle in terms of Facebook’s cash flow and its long term prospects. The one thing any social media platform fears is a drop in engagement.

So, if you’re serious about supporting Stop Hate for Profit there’s a very simple way of doing so.

Log off.

Log out of Facebook, abandon your feed, and take 30 days off. 30 days to change the direction of a social network that has, in the opinions of many, begun to direct our society and democracy.

What should you do now?

You can sign up for more information on Stop Hate for Profit here. Once you’ve done that, set a reminder in your diary for July 1st. That’s going to be the start of your Facebook detox. Join me.

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